Open communication and worker autonomy are just two of the qualities that Great Place to Work Institute will assess in ranking the "Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America." Great Place already partners with Fortune to rank the best big companies -- Starbucks made the grade in 2003. But the Society for Human Resource Management -- Great Place's partner on this project -- expects to prove that entrepreneurs "offer the environment and benefits that can compete with large corporations," says SHRM's Gary Rubin.

Anyone can nominate a company. Once a company is ruled eligible and agrees to participate, Great Place will survey its workers to make sure that claims are "not just the management's song and dance," says coordinator Lisa Ratner. The fee: $975 for companies with 50 to 250 employees, and $1,250 for those with 251 to 1000. Deadline for nominations is August 15, and finalists will be announced next June. Go to Great Place to Work's website for more details.